Government Requests for Facebook Data Still Rising
In the U.S., most requests come from search warrants and other court orders, although some are made using secret 'national security letters.'
Worldwide government requests for Facebook data are continuing their upward trend, with a 9 percent increase between the first and second halves of 2016, according to a report the company released on Thursday.
In the U.S., law enforcement and other government agencies made 26,014 requests for user data in the second half of last year, an 8 percent increase over the first half. Facebook handed over data for 83 percent of those requests.
Privacy concerns notwithstanding, the data shows that in most cases the government isn't attempting to surreptitiously spy on your photo uploads, live videos or status updates. Instead, over half of the requests were related to a search warrant, subpoena or other court order, which shows the requests were made with judicial oversight.
Still, there are instances in which the government doesn't have to tell Facebook the specific reason why it's requesting the data. Those requests are made under "national security letters," and Facebook received as many as 499 of them in the second half of last year -- NSLs prohibit companies from disclosing the exact number of requests.
In deciding whether to grant requests, Facebook Deputy General Counsel Chris Sonderby said in a statement that the company toes the line between complying with the law and protecting users' privacy.
"We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request, and challenge those that are deficient or overly broad," he said. "We do not provide governments with 'back doors' or direct access to people's information."
Sonderby also criticized what he described as a "slow and cumbersome" process for handling international data requests. The report shows that Facebook denied all the requests made by the governments of several developing nations, such as Botswana and Indonesia.